The Ngoma House at Gibb’s Farm

Iraqw people of Tloma have a special relationship with drums. Called ngoma in Swahili and oyyi in Iraqw, they have traditionally been used for communication and celebration as well as being a symbol of authority.

The ngoma are made of wood covered with cow skin on both ends, although you’ll also find tourist versions of these drums covered with zebra skins.  Drums are a ubiquitous feature of Africa.  In many regions drums are played in groups, each having its own voice and function within the ensemble.  Each of these drums are treated as individuals, thus they each have a specific sound.  The largest drum makes a loud bass sound.  The middle size produces a higher-pitched bass sound.  The smaller size is played with sticks and produces a very high-pitched sound.  In some regions of Africa a very small drumhead is used which is taller and more cylindrical than all the other drums in this set.  It also has skin on only one side.  All of the other drums are covered with skin on the top and bottom using an intricate lacing system.  The large base ngoma has small wooden peg-like legs.  All of the drums can be played with sticks, called pundusamo in Iraqw, or hands except the smallest which is primarily played with sticks.

The Iraqw typically use only one drum, the large base hit with sticks by two to four women.  The ngoma is a regular feature of farm life at Gibb’s Farm during special staff events and holidays.  In the Mikawahani Village, a staff housing area, the ngoma is particularly popular. Mikawahani is now lead by an employee elected Mayor that handles governance and social events.  A favorite event is a twice annual staff Olympic where the ngoma event is very
popular as in the photos at right.

Peter Ray’s composition Rhythm Ngoma (2) far right, echos the rhythm of the dance and ngoma drum itself (below). The textures are richly created on three canvases among two sticks representing drum sticks used by the women evoke its personal tone.

Riziki Kateya,, (1) a SANAA artists-in-residence, captures the Hybiscus, a spectacular show of beauty, a topic that may be expressed with Ngoma and song.

Village harvest activities is a popular theme of Iraqw ngoma song. Resident SANAA artist Aloyce Kilamala’s, carving Ngoma Song (3) made of Mpingo wood captures four common elements in his just completed commissioned work for the Ngoma House.  The work has been installed on the fireplace wall (see photo lower right of complete work, details below).

The family still at home preparing for food in the morning, the woman on the left hand side is in charge; she is organizing food for the rest of the family members, the others are the helpers.

After the meal the family is in the shamba farm busy at work.  Some of the family members are cultivating the farm while others are cutting dry wood as a source of fuel when going back home

After harvesting it is time to celebrate for the success for the family; the family is drinking homemade bear called Busa.

After drinking and eating everyone is happy and they join in traditional dance with the ngoma drum. The gods and environment are thanked for the season’s bounty. In Iraqw culture the woman play the drum and the men dance.


(1) Riziki Kateya, Hybiscus, off-set lithography from water color original in the Sanaa Gallery collection.  A Commissioned Sanaa work.

(2) Peter Ray’s Rhythm Ngoma installation,

an acrylic on canvas triptych with two over-sized

wood drum sticks.

(3) Aloyce Kilamala, Ngorma Song,

mpingo wood carving

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Sanaa Art Gallery Collection installed in each cottage.  Select works have been commissioned to carry the theme and lesson of the house.